Is the free agent mindset infecting employees too?

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You have probably heard about the rise of the independent worker and the impact of this trend on career trajectories and business practices. But perhaps your team is still entirely made up of traditional employees, so while the shift towards gig-based careers is something every business person needs to keep an eye on, it doesn’t affect your day-to-day management, does it?

Maybe more than you think, argued Julien Vayssiere, chief development architect at SAP, on SAP’s Community Network recently. In the thought-provoking post, Vayssiere notes that despite the endless chatter about “free agent nation,” he actually doesn’t see that many independent pros around him. Instead of being surrounded by contractors, freelancers and the like – those we usually think of as independent workers – Vayssiere observes that employees themselves are adopting the mindset of the independent worker:

Why don’t I see more free agents around me? Is it just because governments are slow at creating “laws that reflect the new workplace reality“? Is it because of my vantage point, being employed by a large IT firm? Is it that, in many places of the world, being an employee is still more advantageous in terms of taxes, financial safety and access to social benefits? Is it that Free Agency may, in the end, not be the key to freedom, self-fulfillment and wealth?

My opinion is that those of us who still appear as employees on the outside have started becoming free agents on the inside. We now plan careers, education, projects as if we were free agents, or could become free agents soon, even though we work within the context of “traditional” employment.

Let’s look at the way we work today. We make sure our LinkedIn profile is up to date. We groom our network of connections on a variety of social networks. We maintain a certain amount of social media activity as a projection of our work persona. In short, we build our personal brand and personal portfolio. Or, in the words of [The Individual Age Economics author Andrei] Cherny again, “today each individual is ultimately responsible for guiding their own career and economic future. Today, everyone is an entrepreneur; everyone is their own small business“. Whether we like this trend or not, whether we see this as a threat or an opportunity, I think it captures the way many knowledge workers have come to think about themselves and their situation in the workforce.

He closes with a series of questions, asking readers to weigh in on whether their experience aligns with his. “Is becoming a Free Agent something you desire or something you fear? Are you already a free agent?” he asks. These are good questions to ponder, and one could also ask if this shift towards a free agent mindset among traditional employees is a precursor to a full transformation to largely gig-based employment or a stable development unto itself that has ushered in a career reality that’s likely to be here to stay for awhile.

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Dan Queiroz.

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